Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Good and the Bad

Today I'm going to be very honest.
I'm going to share the worst that can happen to a writer: bad reviews.
We all get them. The best of us get them! So what is a writer to do, what are we supposed to learn, from bad reviews?

Last summer I visited my publisher.
I was traveling all over the US again to meet friends, go to a Neil Diamond concert in Salt Lake City, and also visit Eric G. Thompson, the man who created the art on the book covers of the Stone Trilogy.
My publisher had invited me to her home in a pretty little town outside New York City, and as we sat at her dining table, eating Chinese takeout, I began to apologize for the bad reviews my first book, The Distant Shore, had received.
Now don't get me wrong – there are far more five and four star reviews than bad ones. A LOT more.
But there are occasional bad ones.
My publisher gazed at me through her glasses across the lemon chicken and steamed dumplings. Next to me, on the table, was a tower of books she wanted me to sign, and a really large batch of book plates, too.
So she looked at me, and said, in a kind but slightly exasperated tone, "What are you apologizing for? You can't please everyone!"
Well. Yes. I knew that, too.
We moved on to red velvet cake and work, and didn't talk about bad reviews anymore. I signed those books, and all the bookplates and read a crime short story that I'd just written to my publisher.

Here's the thing though.
I still feel as if I should apologize for a bad review. I wrote that book, it's my work, and my publisher is my boss, right? I mean, she's also my friend, but before she became my friend she was already my boss.
She became my boss the moment I signed that first book deal. I promised to deliver something, and she promised to publish it, market it, and make money for both of us with it.
My book is my product. And I want my product to be perfect.
In my silly little mind I compared it to a quilt, to something that I'd made with my hands. I want my quilts to be perfect, and I want my books to be perfect.

Only there is no such thing.

There is no perfect quilt, no perfect book, no perfect nothing.
Everything is a matter of taste. What seems perfect to one, is stupid drivel to someone else.
While one person might love my pastel quilts, someone else might find them too pale, and boring.
While one readers comments on my books how they love love love them, another might be disappointed, and say so in no uncertain terms.
We all have expectations. We expect something to be just so, and if it isn't, we're disappointed.
For me, it's pistachio ice cream. I love pistachios! But pistachio ice cream? Meh.

So the lesson here is: suck it up.
You didn't please every single reader in the universe with your book. You only pleased about 80%. Those other 20%, they simply love something else, a different style, a different kind of story, maybe even a different setting, and different characters.
I have an author friend, and she never ever goes to read her Amazon reviews. Never. Because she's too scared of the bad reviews. The sad part is, she's also cutting herself off from the good reviews, from the happy words of readers who enjoyed her book, who want to tell her that she's a great author, and gave them a great time, reading her story.

I've learned to live with the bad reviews. It's not easy; we all want to be praised, and not be told how disappointing we are.
Writers, live with it. You picked a career that exposes you to critical eyes. Not making everyone happy is part of it.
Walk tall. Be proud of what you've done! You've written a book, and it's out there for so many readers to discover, and enjoy. Some won't like it. But the others will love you forever.